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Plain Language Summaries

Plain language summaries: What are they and why should you include them?

A plain language summary (PLS), also known as a “public lay summary,” a “plain language summary,” or “lay abstract,” is very similar to a typical abstract, with the key distinction that it is written without field-specific vocabulary. The PLS addresses a non-researcher audience—such as policymakers, media, and nonexperts, and contributes to public understanding of the subject matter. PLS can also be a very effective means of making your article stand out, encouraging readership of your work. 

How to write a Plain language summary

A plain language summary (PLS) is composed of a title and abstract. They are an important feature of the article and can be provided for Original articles, Meta-analyses, and Systematic Reviews (for all other article types, please check the journal guidelines). The PLS should be included in your article upon submission, after the scientific abstract and before the introduction. Plain language titles (approx. 50 words) and plain language summaries (approx. 300 words) are descriptions of the paper that are easily understandable, and will be viewed by researchers and clinicians, as well as the public plus the media. 
The PLS should be a true reflection of the research presented, written in an engaging and accessible way, without exaggeration. Both merits and limitations should be discussed. However, patronizing language should not be used and the PLS should not be a ‘dumbed down’ version of your study.

The published PLS will appear underneath the scientific abstract and before your introduction. View an example here.

When writing a PLS, please follow these guidelines:

-    Avoid jargon, use every day English terms to convey your message. If you need to use technical terminology or abbreviations, please explain the term when introduced.
-    Define the who, what, why, when, where, and how of the research. Provide answers to the following questions:
•    Why was this study done?
•    What did the researchers do?
•    What did the researchers find?
•    What do the findings mean?
-    Use short, clear sentences, short paragraphs, and bullet points 

  • If the scientific abstract is structured, please ensure the PLS follows the same structure
  • Use an active voice rather than a passive voice. For example: ‘we reported several side effects’ instead of ‘several side effects were reported by us’
  • Use absolute numbers instead of statistics
  • Ensure that your conclusion/take home message is clear
  • Ask patients/carers/non-academics to read your PLS to provide feedback and to ensure that everything is clear

The plain language summary will be peer reviewed with your article, and feedback and suggested edits will be made by reviewers and the journal’s editorial team.

Participating journals

  • Allergy & Rhinology
  • Biomarker Insights
  • Breast Cancer: Basic and Clinical Research
  • Cancer Control
  • Clinical Medicine Insights: Arthritis and Musculoskeletal Disorders
  • Clinical Medicine Insights: Circulatory, Respiratory and Pulmonary Medicine
  • Clinical Medicine Insights: Endocrinology and Diabetes
  • Clinical Medicine Insights: Pediatrics
  • Environmental Health Insights
  • Gender & Society
  • Implementation Research and Practice
  • Journal of Black Psychology
  • Journal of Black Studies
  • Journal of Central Nervous System Disease
  • Journal of the International Association of Providers of AIDS Care
  • The Journal of Medicine Access
  • Organizational Psychology Review
  • Palliative Care and Social Practice
  • Plasmatology
  • Race & Justice
  • SAGE Open
  • Therapeutic Advances in Cardiovascular Disease
  • Therapeutic Advances in Chronic Disease
  • Therapeutic Advances in Drug Safety
  • Therapeutic Advances in Endocrinology and Metabolism
  • Therapeutic Advances in Gastroenterology
  • Therapeutic Advances in Gastrointestinal Endoscopy
  • Therapeutic Advances in Hematology
  • Therapeutic Advances in Infectious Disease
  • Therapeutic Advances in Medical Oncology
  • Therapeutic Advances in Musculoskeletal Disease
  • Therapeutic Advances in Neurological Disorders
  • Therapeutic Advances in Ophthalmology
  • Therapeutic Advances in Psychopharmacology
  • Therapeutic Advances in Rare Disease
  • Therapeutic Advances in Reproductive Health
  • Therapeutic Advances in Respiratory Disease
  • Therapeutic Advances in Urology
  • Therapeutic Advances in Vaccines and Immunotherapy
  • Women's Health